With their bombs and tanks and guns
Oh my God, what have they done
To the town that I loved so well
Phil Coulter, The Town I Loved So Well
The feeling wasn’t that apocalyptic. One would not wish to compare ones affection for a public house to the turmoil that engulfed the city of Derry (or whatever you want to call it) back at the start of the Troubles in the North of Ireland (or whatever you want to call it). But upon stepping into the Albert last Saturday prior to the Southampton game, one of the rocks upon which my love for Liverpool is built was revealed to have been eroded to sand.
The Albert, for those of you who don’t know, is the pub at the back of the Kop on Walton Breck Road (bong! More name dropping – James) and was the greatest tavern in all of Christendom. Cramped, badly lit and with loos that stank like the kennels at Auschwitz, it was still my favourite Anfield hostelry, and not because of some perverse affection for its ‘charm’. There was the location, allowing you to stumble out of the place ten minutes before kick-off and still reach your seat in time for the first bars of YNWA. It was one of the few pubs that managed to successfully combine a rumbustious atmosphere, most of the patrons bellowing out songs at the top of their voices, with the ability to have a conversation with more than the person whose ear was closest to your mouth – oo-er, missus, I’m almost a married man now, can’t be talking like that. The crowd were always very inclusive, seeming to operate on the assumption that if you only had to go in there twice to be called a regular. The bar staff were the biggest concentration of miracle workers outside of Lourdes, serving all without fear nor favour. And there’s no denying the ‘charm’ of the place, the ceiling and walls festooned with the banners of accumulated European adventures. Add in the fact that it was the only pub in Liverpool without a fruit machine, truly Lucifer’s most wicked creation, yea even more so than Moan U, and you have a recipe for a truly marvellous pub.
So imagine my surprise to enter the Albert prior to the Southampton game and find out that they’ve taken away my pub! The new version was recognisable only for the Fox’s Glacier Mints toilets i.e. clearly minty. The banners on the ceiling had all been redistributed around the walls and had been laundered, leading one wag to speculate on just how many separate washes were required. The walls were painted in an ugly pastel colour, while the ‘charming’ cramped nature of the pub had been ameliorated by the excavation of another area at the back, wooden disco-style floor included. The effect was completed with the addition of extra lighting, although perhaps they just paid the electricity bill and were using existing lights.
Your attitude to these changes are purely a matter of taste. Some would argue that more space in the Albert is a good thing, and extra lighting banishes the dank that had existed there previously. And they’d be right, although more space means more riff-raff singing “Ole ole, ole ole Gerard Houllier” (it’s allez) – and the extra lighting brings to mind Karl’s plaintive pleas in The Simpsons when Moe suggested cleaning up the tavern – “the dank Moe, the dank!” But thoughts like that reveal me to be a Red snob, smugly demanding an end to day-trippers while insisting that out-of-towners and woolybacks are okay.
However, I can never forgive them for the fruit machine. Ever.
Such turmoil is probably characteristic of the start of each new season for the hardened Kopite/Anny Road Ender/Main Stander/Corpse AKA resident of the Centenary Stand. When I arrived at Anfield for the opening game of last season, I was almost a virgin in terms of the buzz of being at the ground, insofar as one can be almost a virgin. Everything was bright and breezy and fresh, and most thrilling of all was the discovery of this place called the Albert, with its warmth and wit and song. As the season progressed though, the feeling of intoxication began to fade, and while I would never say going to the ground was routine, it began to become…comfortable, like the way the passage of time relentlessly ravages your body but is unnoticeable because you’re used to it.
It was all a bit too low-key for comfort. It seems to me that after the early season euphoria last August, buoyed up by the cup treble and victory in the Charity Shield, this season is promising to be a more tension-filled affair. The days when we demanded total dominance are over, but the least we can expect – the least any set of fans can expect – is an improvement over last season, and the consequence of any improvement is too delicious to articulate here. So the nervousness hung heavy over the ground. Memories of the worthless performance last season against the Saints, by both the players and the crowd, and the rank weather didn’t help anyone’s mood.
Then we trashed Southampton, and all was right with the world. Isn’t life grand?